As managing editor of Time magazine, Richard Stengel questioned if the Constitution even matters. If confirmed by the Senate, he’ll take an oath to uphold it.
The day after Constitution Day, President Barack Obama sent the nomination of Stengel to the Senate to be the undersecretary of state for public diplomacy. Stengel has had a long career in journalism, and also worked briefly in politics.
But his essay published in July 4, 2011 issue of Time was the cover story with a picture depicting the Constitution being shredded and asking “Does it Still Matter?” The article, that ran about 5,000 words, was the main feature of the magazine’s 10th annual History Issue.
“We can pat ourselves on the back about the past 223 years, but we cannot let the Constitution become an obstacle to the U.S.’s moving into the future with a sensible health care system, a globalized economy, an evolving sense of civil and political rights,” Stengel wrote.
Stengel wrote the piece as litigation had ensued challenging the constitutionality of the Obamacare health law and as tea party members of Congress helped make the Constitution a key point of public debate.
Stengel went on to write, “The Constitution does not protect our spirit of liberty; our spirit of liberty protects the Constitution. The Constitution serves the nation; the nation does not serve the Constitution.”
He further wrote that the Founding Fathers could not have anticipated contemporary society.
“Here are a few things the framers did not know about: World War II. DNA. Sexting. Airplanes. The atom. Television. Medicare. Collateralized debt obligations. The germ theory of disease. Miniskirts. The internal combustion engine. Computers. Antibiotics. Lady Gaga,” Stengel wrote.
“The framers were not gods and were not infallible. Yes, they gave us, and the world, a blueprint for the protection of democratic freedoms — freedom of speech, assembly, religion — but they also gave us the idea that a black person was three-fifths of a human being, that women were not allowed to vote and that South Dakota should have the same number of Senators as California, which is kind of crazy,” he wrote. “And I’m not even going to mention the Electoral College. They did not give us income taxes. Or Prohibition. Those came later.”
Citing totalitarian regimes with constitutions, he said the document does not preserve freedom.
“A constitution in and of itself guarantees nothing,” Stengel wrote. “Bolshevik Russia had a constitution, as did Nazi Germany. Cuba and Libya have constitutions. A constitution must embody something that is in the hearts of the people.”
Interestingly, before Stengel became the top editor at Time in 2006, he was the president of the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia from 2004 to 2006. He began as a correspondent for Time in 1981, before going to teach journalism at Princeton, his alma mater before working as a senior advisors for the 2000 presidential campaign of former Democratic Sen. Bill Bradley.